Why the United States must strengthen the retraining of workers victims of unfair trade

When Goodyear closed its Tennessee manufacturing plant and fired Ray Spangler a decade ago, he moved his shocked family about 330 miles so he could work at the company’s Gadsden, Alabama plant. .

Goodyear also closed that factory last year, after moving most of the work to Mexico, leaving Spangler with the agonizing question of whether to relocate again.

Ultimately, he chose to use a federal retraining program, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for workers, to build a future in Gadsden.

Thousands of Americans find themselves in Spangler’s Place every year, victims of bad trade and corporate greed, and Democrats in the House and Senate therefore want to bolster the agenda and provide more resources these workers need. to start over.

However, time is running out. On July 1, the most recent version of TAA expired, limiting support for those not already in the program. Congress must act as quickly as possible to ensure that help is available when workers need it.

“It saves lives,” said Spangler, a former member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12L, of the TAA program which covers his tuition, supplies and other expenses while he studies. electronics technology at Wallace State Community College near his home. “Other people need to have access to it. “

TAA allows workers to chart new paths when they lose their jobs due to bad business.

In some cases, as in the case of Spangler and colleagues, companies are shifting their jobs and production to countries with low wages, low labor standards, and lax environmental laws. Goodyear moved from Gadsden’s job to a factory in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, and only pays workers there a few dollars an hour.

Other times, foreign countries illegally subsidize the production of aluminum, electronics, paper, steel, tires and other goods and then dump the items in the United States at below market prices. American manufacturers cannot compete on this uneven playing field, and American workers are therefore losing their livelihoods.

TAA pays for post-secondary education, on-the-job training, apprenticeships and other skills to enable workers to access new fields.

Even then, starting over is not easy. This is why TAA also provides income support, case management services, job search allowances, a tax credit to help cover health care premiums and other resources including workers. need to recover from the wrong hands inflicted on them.

Dozens of former Spangler colleagues have taken advantage of the benefits of AAT to obtain commercial driver’s licenses, learn trades, and earn degrees in education, nursing and other fields.

When Goodyear closed the Gadsden plant, Spangler was unsure of what to do. The career tire worker thought about finding a job at the Goodyear plant in Topeka, Kansas, but decided to keep his family in the Gadsden area.

TAA allows him to chart the future on his terms.

“It just prepares me for other opportunities down the road,” said Spangler, whose associate’s degree will allow him to work for manufacturers, power producers and communications companies, among many other employers.

He and his colleagues were among the 96,000 workers across the country who became eligible for AAT in fiscal year 2020 alone. And that figure has increased by 6% from fiscal year 2019, highlighting the threat. persistent bad trade and the disastrous effects on workers, their families and communities.

Congress has reauthorized the TAA several times over the years, and on July 1, the most recent iteration expired, triggering an automatic reversion to an older version of the program with a smaller budget, fewer resources, and eligibility. restraint.

It is essential that Congressional Democrats move quickly with proposals to implement an even stronger agenda than before so that it can better meet the needs of working people in today’s economy.

Democrats’ plans include expanding income supports, increasing the Job Search Allowance and Health Care Tax Credit, establishing a child care allowance and l ‘Adding pre-apprenticeships to the list of education programs that AAT will cover.

They also want to extend TAA assistance to other categories of workers affected by trade, such as public sector workers whose jobs are contracted out as well as those who lose their livelihoods during disruption in chains. global supply, as happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. example — harming production and sales.

“I hope they keep this program and expand it to others as well,” said Brian Schweitzer, a former shop steward of Steelworkers Local 94, who was among the hundreds who were laid off when the plant Verso Paper in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, has slowed operations amid import levels last year. “Without it, I would have been confused.”

Schweitzer, who worked in the facilities shipping department for 13 years, recalled how the discovery of the program made an immediate difference to him and his colleagues who felt “depressed … and worried about the future.”

He initially considered selling his house and moving out of town, but instead decided to use TAA to complete a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning training program at Mid-State Technical College. He still has several months of study left, but already receives a constant stream of vacancies from employers who cannot fill vacant positions for technicians and other HVAC experts quickly enough.

“I’ll have it in my back pocket forever,” he said of his in-demand skills.

Due to its comprehensive services and high success rate, among other reasons, TAA stands out in a country that has long failed to provide adequate professional training opportunities.

Relative to the size of its economy, the United States spends significantly less on worker training programs than many other industrial countries, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Congress has a chance to begin to reverse this trend with a significant new investment in TAA, which has repeatedly proven to help workers like Spangler and Schweitzer move forward.

“It was very difficult,” said Spangler, “but it will pay off.”

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